When Doug Martsch conceived the Indie Rock bliss of Built to Spill nearly a quarter century ago, he envisioned a band of constantly rotating new members between albums, with himself as the group’s sole constant. To a degree, Martsch has maintained that ethic, although his pool of players hasn’t been impossibly vast; since 1992, Built to Spill has only had eight distinct members other than the band’s founder, who has utilized the octet in a variety of mix-and-match variations.
Built to Spill — which, despite a fairly “cultish” following, has sold enough to remain on major label Warner Brothers since 1997 (a rarity in the music biz these days) — is often cited as an influential act by bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. All together, the group has released eight albums, five EPs, an early compilation and its only live album, 2000’s aptly titled Live. Martsch has also done a single solo album, 2002’s Blues/Folk-flecked Now You Know, and a trio of releases in the late ’90s with The Halo Benders.
Although Built to Spill has been relatively stable recently, the band hasn’t been particularly active outside of a steady diet of touring. After the release of 2009’s inexplicably ignored There is No Enemy, Martsch and the band reimagined seven BTS songs — one from each studio album in a Synth Pop vein — for 2010’s The Electronic Anthology Project EP. In 2012, Built to Spill unveiled a new lineup when Martsch and semi-regular guitarists Brett Netson and Jim Roth were joined by bassist Jason Albertini and drummer Steve Gere, an arrangement that was announced as permanent the following year.
The advantages of having a solid lineup were evident on Built to Spill’s eighth studio release, last year’s Untethered Moon, where even the most delightfully unhinged and chaotic moments displayed an amazing coherence and sonic unity. It was also indicative of Martsch’s creative integrity; before the departures of bassist Scott Plouf and drummer Brett Nelson, the quintet had recorded an album prior to a tour, but Martsch, citing musical burnout, felt the album fell short and shelved it, starting over after the installation of the new rhythm section. As a result, Untethered Moon was one of Built to Spill’s most acclaimed albums to date and a favorite on a number of year-end lists.
Even with the lineup shifts (the current touring band features only Martsch, Albertini and Gere) and the tweaks in tone and theme, Built to Spill has always exhibited a certain consistency, one being the quality of songwriting, regardless of the band’s composition, and the other being BTS’s deserved reputation as an absolutely ferocious live act. And that’s where it counts.
BUILT TO SPILL plays Woodward Theater this Thursday with Love as Laughter. Click here for tickets/more info.